Embrace the Suck
It is cold. I am wet. Why am I out here? These are the thoughts that keep running through my mind as I have almost reached the halfway point of my twelve miles out and back on the Pinhoti Trail. I also keep making the internal observation that this would be a good trail to run. It is a little wider than single track and although it is constantly going up or down it is not too steep. For a moment I lament the fact that my hips can only handle a pace of about 2.5 miles an hour. Those are the cards I have been dealt, so might as well play the hand I have. It is also a shame there will be no views today. I will get up above 3000 feet in elevation but most of the time I feel like I am hiking in a cloud.
Even as I start to feel the cold water seep into my Hoka’s I am happy to be out here on a dreary February day in Georgia. It has been over two hours and I haven’t seen a soul. This time is my sanctuary. It gives me the opportunity to work through my own mind, but to be honest I am probably an idiot for going out into the woods on a day like today. I am goal driven if nothing else and the goal is to complete all the Pinhoti in Georgia even if I am only doing about 6 miles at a time and even if I can feel the moisture accumulating on the inside of my raincoat. “Embrace the suck,” that is the other thought that echoes in my mind as I smile at the small creek that is overflowing and that I will have to walk through. Its ok, my feet are already soaked
Why I left
Being a type A goal junky is what got me into running in the first place. It is why I found the original loop and started blogging. It was part of a change in who I was. I was moving from NJ and a comfortable job to Georgia and a lot of unknowns. Being a part of a group gave me identity and it provided positive reinforcement for the habit of frequent exercise which almost slid into an addiction. Being type A is also why I stopped blogging. I realized after a while most of what I was writing was “look at me, look at what I have done even after the doctors say I shouldn’t run with an artificial hip.” But it wasn’t just that. My goals were changing, and I wasn’t running as much. My writing as well as my running had to be more than succor for my ego.
After my first Triathlon in 2010 I told myself I need to become a better runner. A few laps around the local track wasn’t going to cut it. So, I dove in and set my long-term goal on doing a ½ ironman. I improved at running, built up to completing my first and only marathon 3 years later and then found out I have a congenital problem in my hips call Developmental hip dysplasia which leads to early degeneration of the cartilage and eventual bone rubbing on bone. I thought my running days were over. I had the hip replaced. Being the stubborn idiot that I am and against doctor’s advice I did a sprint tri 6 months after surgery and a half marathon less than a year later getting to my first and only loopfest at Marshall. Fall of 2015 I completed my goal of completing a ½ ironman and I told myself if I never ran a long race again I would be happy. Even so I have done a lot of short triathlons since then. I never thought I would run a big race again. This past fall I found myself running 6 miles, then 9 and eventually 11, so I had to run a half marathon with my wife. The most enjoyable races I have had done have been when I paced someone else. Helping my wife get her PR and reach her A goal made the 2 months of pain following the race worth it.
There are some days I feel great after I run. Other days I have lingering pain in my left hip (the bad hip) for a day or two. This is my body telling me that eventually this mechanical hip will wear out and I will have to have this replaced. Some days I have pain in my right hip (not the bad hip but getting there). I know one day I will have to have surgery on that one too. I have become very religious about not running two days in a row and I have incorporated yoga and other core strengthening exercise into my routine. On days when I swim I make it a point to hit the weights, but I know that the final result is inevitable. Nevertheless, I still run. In fact I am currently training to do the same ½ ironman in Augusta that I did 4 years ago. Just one more big race I tell myself, then I will hang up the shoes. I have become very good at lying to myself.
Go big or go home.
Over the winter I frequent a spin class which is full of characters. I not only go for the exercise but also for the comradery. There is a lady named Jackie who is at least 15 years my senior and who is constantly picking on me during class. She has an Australian accent and has lived in the south now for over 30 years, so it doesn’t even feel like she is yanking my chain, and most of the time I just laugh. “Scotty, what’s wrong you can’t keep up? You are almost going as slow as me today Scotty. Yes, when the class leader is telling those slackers to pick it up she is talking about you.” Needless to say, every class ends with a puddle of sweat on the floor below my bike. By the way Jackie is the only one who gets away with calling me Scottie.
Jackie, is one of those people you look at and you are motivated just by her being present. I say to myself, when I grow up I want to be just like Jackie. Still smiling at the world even when she is pushing herself. Knowing that her days of being fast and riding long miles are behind her, but there still are good days ahead. My favorite days in class are when Jackie wears her favorite t-shirt. At some point during the class I will hear her roar in her Australian accent, “Go big or go home.” It is printed right there on her gym tank top. How could you miss it?
Being honest with myself
I recently finished Scott Jurek’s book North about his FKT. I was surprised by many things including the friction between hikers and Scott during his attempt as well as how unprepared he was for this journey. It was uplifting to read about all the friends and strangers that helped him on his way. What resonated most with me was how he described why he needed to attempt this record and the deep dark place he went to be able to reach his goal. One of the reasons why he tried to get the FKT was because he wanted to find his edge and push it a little farther. Pushing that envelope is something that he has realized is getting harder to do at his age. He realized he needed to challenge himself when his wife called him out for mailing it in during his most recent races. It just so happened that his limits led him to a very dark place within himself and then he had to find a way out.
Most of us Type A people need to find our limits and then try to push just a little farther. Maybe it is a desire to better ourselves. Maybe we don’t want to admit that like all things we have limits. At some time in our life we all find ourselves in that dark place. It is the struggling with ourselves that helps us claw out. It is our friends and family who reach out their hand to pull us from the dark. It is the experience of being in this place during a race or on a run or in the middle of a hike that reminds us that this too is limited and we know that we will find a way out. Struggling with the limits that come with getting older is the place I find myself currently. Looking back at all that I have been able to do and to truly be thankful provides a solid foundation. Looking ahead to what I still want to accomplish gives me motivation. The goals may have changed due to my limits but they meet Jackie’s criteria, they are big. See there is this mountain in Maine that is calling my name.
Rocky Top, Great Smokey Mountains